It is with regret that I advise the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction has been put on indefinite hold. All year I have been waiting for a press release about the 2021 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. As there has been no release from the University of Alabama School of Law I called the University a few days ago to ask about the Prize this year. A representative of the University advised me of the decision to put the Award on hold.
As set out in an earlier post on the blog the origins of the Prize were set out by the University in 2010:
To honor the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, The University of Alabama School of Law and the American Bar Association Journal partnered to create The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. The Prize, authorized by Harper Lee, author and former Alabama law student, was announced in conjunction with Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks on the book at Alabama in October 2010. The Prize honors Lee for the role model she created for the legal profession and for the extraordinary cultural phenomenon that her novel has become.
The University further stated with regard to the Award in 2012:
In the spirit of Atticus Finch, the prize is awarded annually to a published work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers or the legal system in society.
The work must be:
• a published book-length work of fiction
• published originally in 2012
• readily available to readers via commercial sources (retail or online bookstores
such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or iTunes)
• an electronically-published work with an ISBN may be submitted but unpublished manuscripts may not.
The ABA Journal for several years invited readers to vote on their choice for the best book on the shortlist. Their choice would then count in the vote by the panel of judges.
From 2013 on I read the 3 books chosen each year for the short list and would provide me thoughts on whether I agreed with the book chosen to win the Prize.
I was excited to see an annual Prize for best legal fiction. It was a highlight of my reading year to read and write about the books on the short list. I added my posts on the Prize to my page on Legal Mysteries which now contains reviews of 104 books.
The winners of the Prize are:
2011 John Grisham, The Confession
2012 Michael Connelly, The Fifth Witness
2013 Paul Goldstein, Havana Requiem
2014 John Grisham, Sycamore Row
2015 Deborah Johnson, The Secret of Magic
2016 Attica Locke, Pleasantville
2017 James Grippando, Gone Again
2018 C.E. Tobisman, Proof
2019 Sharon Bala, The Boat People
2020 Victor Methos, The Hallows
Of the books my personal favourite is The Boat People by Sharon Bala. Beyond being an excellent book on the legal travails facing Sri Lankan refugees it was written by a Canadian and is set in Canada.
I had some unease about the Prize in 2020 when the ABA Journal did not participate in the Prize. My concern proved founded this year.
I am concerned the Prize will not be back for it never gained as much attention as I felt the Prize deserved. I am not sure why. Legal fiction remains popular. There were strong entries every year.
I do wish there had been greater promotion by the School of Law. There might have been 1-2 press releases a year. Awards need to be sold like every other venture seeking public recognition.
I hope the Award will return. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains an American classic. The Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction honoured her, the legal profession and fine writers.